NEWS THAT 11.1 per cent of Brazil’s beef exports to the USA failed food safety inspection protocols highlights the issue of food and biosecurity quality.
The US Department of Agriculture found one-ninth of beef imported from Brazil failed basic food hygiene qualities.
Mostly, they found partly digested food, unacceptable cuts (largely from the stomach and anus), water and medicinals and chemicals mixed with prime beef.
The USDA inspectors found poor sanitation in eight beef processing plants they inspected in Brazil, along with poor quality carcase inspection.
They also said that Brazilian meat inspectors had ‘conflicts of interests’ in their jobs — diplomatic speak that they were susceptible to bribes to turn a blind eye.
They also suggested these issues were also seen or suspected in a number of growing developing world suppliers. So, that suggests processing in countries such as India, China and Vietnam competing with Australian meat and fish, as well as vegetables, are likely to have high levels of non-compliance.
The white spot disease in prawns appears most likely to have come from imported uncooked prawns, although there seems some pushback from the federal Agriculture department on this, as they appear (under pressure from major supermarkets) to accept the University research.
And this is the issue — does Australia accept ‘cheap’ agricultural imports (cheap as much because they have poorer growing and processing conditions as cheaper worker wages, electricity, etc) forsaking biosecurity. The supermarkets are a powerful push to reduce standards or delays in importing for the sake of tougher inspections.
But the USDA is arguing that global food supply chains require tougher inspections. They now require that all imports of Brazilian beef are inspected by USDA inspectors.
In contrast, Australia allowed in 400,000kg of uncooked prawns without inspection, or on the word of the importer.
The other issue facing Australian food growers is that they face competition in export markets from poor quality, poorly processed and inspected meat and vegetables. For instance, Indonesia accepting buffalo meat from India and Malaysia to use to reduce or put price pressure on Australia live and processed cattle exports.
Supermarkets, and the free marketers in Canberra, argue against tougher inspection regimes (which they have to pay for under our user pays system) saying they are just protectionism to keep domestic prices higher.
But ‘cheap’ has a price — the possible denigration of Australia’s ‘clean, green’ reputation.
And our legislation says the federal government does not have to recompense farmers for the extra costs caused by a biosecurity slippage — unlike the rules in the USA and Europe.
So, the supermarkets can import probably poorly inspected produce, but leave the costs of any failure of biosecurity (such as white spot) to the Australian farmers whose prices and markets were squeezed by that same competition.
The cutbacks in food import checks and biosecurity in successive federal and state budgets have a real price.
The USDA report says the biosecurity and food quality risks are rising steeply with increased global food supply chains. They suggest more government-controlled efficacious inspections, not less or importer controlled schemes.